For all the time I’ve spent online over the last 25-plus years, I’ve actually avoided most social media. I never signed up for Facebook; first because I was already out of college when it started to take off, and later because I was already in touch with family and friends in other ways. As Facebook became more of a privacy-invading misinformation-filled dystopia, I never second-guessed that choice. Ditto for Instagram; I didn’t take all that many photos so didn’t feel the need to share pictures that way, and once it was bought by Facebook, well, there was no chance I’d sign up.
But I did start a Twitter account back in 2008. When I first signed up, it seemed like a whimsical way to share thoughts, 140 characters at a time. I was attracted by the vision of short, pithy, interesting conversations. Over time, it became a convenient way to follow current events, both in traditional realms of world news and in the fandoms that I enjoy. I never tweeted all that much, really. But it was a fun outlet for little ideas, jokes, and comments. Looking back in my archive, it seems that I really posted a lot of random, context-free thoughts in the early days!
Twitter has never been a perfect community. Far from it. I’m aware of its many issues including harassment, poor moderation, and censorship. But it felt like Twitter was at least trying to keep things overall civil — even if it failed a lot and was trying to balance the completely opposite points of view of many participants.
In the last few months, all of the assumptions about Twitter have been called into question. I won’t try to sum up the actual events. Suffice to say, a major social network is now being run based on the whims of a billionaire man-child who thinks “free speech” means that anyone is allowed to say almost anything.
Free speech is actually the opposite, in a way. You’re free to say what you want, but you still have a responsibility to participate civilly in society. There are consequences to saying things that are uncivil (or worse). Those consequences don’t stem from any legal authority, but from society. The First Amendment has no bearing on an individual or corporation’s speech in relation to one another; it only limits what the U.S. government can do to restrain said speech. (Unsurprisingly, xkcd expresses this concept much better than me.)
Furthermore, when it comes to social media and other mass media, choosing to allow hate speech is a tacit endorsement—because that speech would hardly be heard at all if it wasn’t boosted by the megaphone that is any networked or broadcast communication. Free speech does not obligate others to support or amplify your own views. Which is why moderation and rules of conduct are critical to any society, both in the physical world and the virtual world.
Finally, the nature of social media is that it’s a self-promoting network. The attraction for new people to join and for existing people to participate comes from the mass of people who are already participating in the group. It’s a kind of feedback loop (in either direction). That means that in a tiny way, each person continuing to post on Twitter helps to sustain it in its current form. My participation is a tacit endorsement that the way Twitter is being run is okay.
I wish I could keep using Twitter to help make it (or keep it) the way I want it to be. But Twitter is still a for-profit company, driven by ads and clicks. And now it’s run by fiat based on unrealistic and misguided ideals (to put it politely). The simple fact is, any outside individual or group no longer has any influence over how Twitter operates.
(None of these ideas should be new to most people. Repeating them here in such a drastically simplistic way is unlikely to change any minds. I’m writing this to try to collect some coherent thoughts about my conflicted feelings.)
All of this is a fairly long-winded way to say that I’m no longer willing to sit by and keep browsing and posting on Twitter as the whole thing is run into the ground. Whether it falls apart slowly or quickly, I don’t know. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t fall apart, but I feel like an unmoderated network will inevitably become a cesspool of hate (even more than it already was to some people).
I’m just dipping my toe into the water on Mastodon. My initial impressions are overall positive. The experience isn’t as polished and it’s still a little hard to discover new people there. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a bit more personal and a lot friendlier. (Of course that can change over the years as it grows…) I may be losing some contacts I’m used to following (I hate change), but I’m also slowly discovering new contacts too.
You can find me now on Mastodon: @firstname.lastname@example.org. (I’ll leave the old Twitter account intact for now, though maybe in a month or two I’ll change my mind and delete it.)